Explore a world of wonder and sameness…
Like many anime fans, interest in the form came from science-fiction fandom. In a survey book entitled The Rough Guide to Scifi Movies, by acclaimed author John Scalzi, the centerpiece chapter discusses 50 canonical works. Among the usual suspects of 2001, Blade Runner, Metropolis, and Star Wars, there’s also space for Akira and Ghost in the Shell, two animated films from Japan.
In the Ghost in the Shell segment especially, there’s this roadmap to accessibility – the author anticipates anime fans might lament that any discussion of Ghost in the Shell inevitably brings up The Matrix, a franchise which debuted ten years after its most famous forebear. And that’s what Ghost in the Shell becomes to most western viewers – theoretically – nothing more than a forebear.
But for me, as a big fan of all things Matrix (on film), Ghost in the Shell became immediately appealing, even more so than Akira, which I’d likely heard of before. The Matrix turned my head, but what drew me in was the Major, who continues to be my favorite character in media.
As I explored anime with help from helpful guides, I found that there was anime akin to Ghost in the Shell in terms of its cyberpunk flair (though I can’t think of any at the moment), and then there was anime akin to Ghost in the Shell in terms of its heroine. And there was also anime that crossed-over both, whether Appleseed or Angel Cop (don’t watch Angel Cop).
Ladies were kicking ass all over anime, and in interesting ways. Sure, there were ladies being kidnapped and sexually assaulted or just ignored and underdeveloped, like I was used to in my American media. But the balance was different. There was a preponderance of good alongside the bad. And that’s Why I Like Anime.
Also featured in that above image is a book called Aliens vs. Predator: Hunter’s Planet, by David Bischoff, which is roughly the quality of a B anime OVA from the 80s, but more importantly is one of the few examples from American media which combines unqualified girl power and deep nerd preoccupations like aliens battling predators (the final act regards alien/robot hybrids which shan’t be named because Bischoff decided to name them “Buggers”).
So I’m willing to narrow this discussion down to genre: science-fiction and/or action. Comedy/horror and fantasy might creep in unwanted on occasion, but scifi and action are the primary stars of A Generic Wonderful. The titles featured in that header image were so collected because they represent a range, from the mainstream (Ghost in the Shell, Serial Experiments Lain) to the unknown or convoluted (Gundress and Iria: Zeiram the Animation are based on a video-game and a live-action film series, respectively) to the vintage and venerated (Gall Force). What connects them is the fact of their heroine, who may or may not be pointing a gun at the viewer.
Compare that to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, rightfully hailed for its inclusion of a heroine at the center of the poster. But its rarity and lateness can be attributed to a culture which expressed itself mightily in the film’s hand-wringing aftermath. The heroine in question, Rey, was criticized as a Mary Sue, and became the center of a useless debate that was more so a clash of right and left-leaning ideologies.
In genre anime, tough women or simply lead women are commonplace, possibly even a majority (no, possibly not really). All of my favorite heroes come from genre anime: The Major, Balsa, Revy, Ryuko Matoi, Celty, Deunan Knute, Rally Vincent, Nausicaa, Queen Emeraldas. And even when they’re not the main characters, they’re still the toughest, like Attack on Titan or Evangelion. In non-Japanese media, it’s Ellen Ripley, Machiko Noguchi, Molly Millions, and Retro Studios’ interpretation of Samus Aran, who’s originally a Japanese character. That’s all I can think of, and one of those is Canadian. Seemingly the entire works of Hayao Miyazaki and Masamune Shirow feature heroine protagonists, and these two creators have literally nothing else in common.
The Why of the Why
Most anime is created by men, so it’s the same situation as in America, and worldwide. Even when it’s originally a woman’s work (the Moribito series), it’s brought to the screen by a man (Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit). But men’s sole saving grace here is not a trifle, despite being a holdover for the actual solution as yet forthcoming, which is equality in the workplace: these men LOVE women.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE women, in all kinds of ways. Like a serial killer. That’s why we get founded stereotypes about Weird Japan, because of the frequency/proximity of tentacles to little girls. But for all the bizarre pornography that becomes some kind of Hell tunnel, there’s that top ten percent which filters through to the international stage, and means that some of those anime women will be real cool.
It’s just a matter of math at that point. When women are the default, even for the SAME PENIS REASONS they’re NOT the default in America, you’ll get that range, and a part of that range is my zone. Of course, sometimes things get blurred, and a lot of these real cool anime women are sexualized for no reason, like the Major’s getup in the first Gig, or her flirt with predation in the second, but then she’ll spinkick a guerrilla’s teeth out or wrangle an attack helicopter on nothing but grit and a 9mm.
That tension between gratuitous sexualization (which may just be all sexualization if we’re talking about scifi and action) and ‘coolness’ is what lends this kind of anime to commentary and analysis. Maybe it’s the ambiguity of the term ‘coolness,’ so I’ll make it a priority to specify, here on this blog.
So badass women is why I like anime, and as a result, the media covered on A Generic Wonderful will diverge off those three things, in this order: badass, anime, and women. Don’t worry – I’m not gonna talk about women like I know something, because I don’t (instead, let’s take ‘women’ as ‘gender relations’). I am not a card carrying feminist, because I dropped mine somewhere and now I can’t get out of this fucking parking garage without paying $15.
(for the weirder part of this story… keep reading, but you don’t have to. Really. Especially if you think I’m cool rn – STOP)
One of the only things in the world I like is badass women in science-fiction and action stuff. Anime serves that best, video-games second best, and Hollywood film far last. I don’t really go to the movies anymore.
There’s two reasons for this:
One: it’s The Thing Most Entertaining. I am no more entertained by media than when the Major beats someone up, shoots a gun, or barks an order.
Two: I think it’s important. I’ve long believed, and continue to believe, that the promotion of physical strength in women is a key tenet of empowerment, as pointed toward a truly egalitarian society (beep-beep-beep: crazy guy alert), despite most people’s rejection of the Strong Female Character.
This proclivity has always been something I’m defensive about, as a heterosexual American male nerd. Is badassness or this mysterious ‘coolness’ just a kink? Even if that’s not your immediate thought, it arrives eventually because this is a political matter.
I spent thousands of regretful words talking about feminism in scifi on the last one, going in cycles of “I am NOT the guy to be talking about this” to “but… I have some, like, REALLY cool ideas, guys.” And indeed eventually, on that podcast, I had to admit to myself that yes… there is something sexy about a “girl who can kick my ass.”
There’s no coming back from a statement like that, and it wholly puts the lie to any claims of being feminist I made in that previous life. This may very well be The Last Problem I’ll ever have, because it’s where my mathematical positioning of ‘gratuitous sexualization’ as directly in contrast to the coolness is undermined.
Not that I secretly think the Major soliciting an underage boy for sex is the coolness, but that my own brand of what’s sexy is no better. Because after all, 100% of the women who’ve read or heard my various suppositions about the Strong Female Character’s potential to redeem the world have disagreed with them.
Don’t you try to make me feel better, Microsoft Word
So where does that leave me?
Still figuring things out. This blog will inescapably stem from that autoanthropological work, as everything I touch seems to. But if you can relate to my plight, or even just the preoccupation, you’ll be right at home here. We can cry in the dark together.
– your pal, Harrison Chute